The value of a trigger warning

Olivia Harden, Opinions Editor

I am a Black women who sees the world through many cultural, political and spiritual experiences. While many of those moments have been wonderful, a lot of them have been traumatic.

Imagine waking up on a typical morning at Chapman. You’re groggy, and the first thing you do is reach for your phone. You check your notifications and then hop on Facebook, only to see someone who looks like you, or someone you know, dead. Posts like these induce anxiety. Multiple studies have shown that racism causes trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to PBS. This has been my reality, as my Facebook feed has become more political. This is why trigger warnings are important.

Whether it’s in the classroom, on the internet or in everyday conversations, trigger warnings are a good tool to practice. If you’re serious about being an ally, trigger warnings are important to protect communities from further unnecessary trauma.

The word trigger is commonly used to refer to things that upset, offend or insult someone. But this usage takes away from the psychological concept of a trigger. In psychology, it’s a stimulus – such as a smell, sound or sight – that triggers feelings of trauma. Trigger is used to refer to experiences that induce trauma in the form of flashbacks or overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety or panic, according to Good Therapy. This is entirely different from something that upsets you.

Some concerns surrounding trigger warnings in the classroom are that students could opt out of lessons about difficult topics. At the town hall meeting on Dec. 8 about trigger warnings, Board of Trustees member David Henley read excerpts from the American Association of University Professors’ 2014 statement on trigger warnings, which denounced them as “a current threat to academic freedom,” The statement also said that protecting students with trigger warnings is “infantilizing and anti-intellectual.” But it is not up to any professor to decide how and when a student deals with their trauma. Healing is a personal and individual experience.

In my First-year Foundations Course, Education and Revolution: Activism and Social Movement, we watched a documentary about the Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights leaders who were firebombed and beaten by white racists as they came into Alabama.

I became entranced while watching the documentary. My breath was shallow and I couldn’t stop tapping my foot on the floor. I was anxious, looking at a scene I had seen a thousand times before. The students around me, none of whom identified as Black, were laughing, talking and having conversations about God knows what. A trigger warning would have meant nothing to them. But it would’ve meant everything to me.

Maybe I would’ve skipped class that day, but I also could have better prepared myself for what was coming. Either way, in that moment, my mental health could have been spared a blow.

Try to become more aware of the content you share and how it can affect others. It can be as simple as mentioning what you’d like to talk about. Check in with your friends before moving forward with details. I know someone out there is going to perceive this column as too politically correct with a liberal agenda. But trauma can affect all of us, and some trauma substantially affects some groups of people more than others.

PTSD can take many different forms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Not every person affected by PTSD has the same longevity or severity of symptoms. And not every PTSD survivor experienced their trauma directly. Please be mindful of the people around you. Just because an experience doesn’t relate to you, doesn’t make it any less valid.

1 Comment

  • This is perhaps the saddest thing I have ever read, and it isn’t with regards to me feeling sad for you. It is sad in the sense that I am concerned that many individuals aren’t going to adequately function in this world, where there are no “trigger warnings”. People will say things that offend you and do things that offend you; and at some point or another, you will need to put on a set of big boy pants and hop into reality. Unless one seeks employment with the ACLU, I’m unsure that any other work environment could guarantee it to be free of “trigger warnings”.

Leave a Comment